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Table talk...a Sufi mystic in Anderson

Well...I might as well say it...

I live among addicts...food addicts...and I find it increasingly distressing.

I know...I know...
Addiction is usually thought of in terms of alcohol and drugs.
We are all well aware of the pain, damage and destruction that accompanies those addictions. But we are so blinded by our notions that we utterly fail
to see that most of us are completely in the grip of life-long food addiction.

We roundly condemn the gamblers, alcoholics, sex-aholics and drug-addled while refusing to see that the great majority of us are similarly trapped in the self-destructive, mind and body-numbing addiction to food.

Obesity and its subsequent ill effects is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in America.
Its misery is certainly more widespread and pervasive than that of drugs
and alcohol. Its tentacles reach out to all of us.
Because most of us are literally addicted, we are loathe to consider or address our problem. It is terribly inconvenient...way too much to deal with...
and we are surrounded by addicts anyway, so why not just settle for the staus quo and enjoy ourselves? No one's going to trouble us for that! Foodies unite!
Isn't that why alcoholics, gamblers and drug addicts hang out together?
No one to find fault if you're all in it together...

Perhaps our lifelong pursuit of happiness has gotten out of hand.
It has certainly taken on a more infantile expression...
We are a laughingstock to the world as we lug our bloated, deteriorating
and unhealthy bodies around the globe.
And yet our obsession with food grows.
We have gradually set aside every other form of enjoyment in favor of food.
Social, intellectual pursuits, sports, dance...sex.
Sex deserves special mention here.
How many wives pacify their husbands with food to put them off sex?
Another nightly bowl of ice cream, dear? The favorite of Christians...

Everything else becomes secondary, at best.
If anything, our obsession merely changes form from time to time..
We indulge ourselves, then perform the rituals of diet and exercise only to repeat the cycle,
thinking that we are making progress, yet remaining as thoroughly entrenched,
obsessed and addicted as ever.
We follow the latest diets and health fads, we buy the trendiest supplements,
we hark to the various gurus, etc., but in the end, it is still all about
our bellies.
We are simply digging ourselves deeper into obsession and self-deception.
Suicide with a fork...

Is it worth the price? I don't think so...

I still remember, albeit with some effort, my natural instincts regarding food.
I grew up in the 50s when over-consumption was not yet the norm.
Things were more realistic back then. We were not coddled or spoiled.
Standards were upheld. Food was not taken for granted like it is today.
Food as entertainment was not so overblown. We were not constantly indulging ourselves.
Our appetites were actually restrained...hardly the case today.
We were not gluttonous. Gluttony was an aberration, not the norm.
Nowadays, everyone seems like a greedy, out-of-control child bent on
satisfying every whim around the clock.
We have lost any sense of self control...and we are not alarmed, somehow.

I remember when food held its rightful place in the course of a day...
When, thanks to my folks, we were rightly related to food.
My parents were not obsessed. It wasn't always easy to keep food on the table.
We had a healthy respect for my parent's efforts. Food was not wasted.
Treats were just that...treats. Not a constant commercial-driven demand.

Pity the kids of today who are raised in this food-obsessed culture,
whose natural instincts were overrun at the very outset.
Every time a child is 'in the way', something is shoved in their mouths.
It starts with a pacifier...and it never ends!
Anything to shut them up, subdue them and put them in a stupor.
For the remainder of their lives, they will repeat that pattern.
Feeling out of sorts? Anxious? Eat something! Lonely? Eat!! Drink!!
Bored? Entertain with food. Socialize? Must have piles of food.
Church? Woo them with food. Bring on the casseroles and desserts!

You'd think we were all starving, given the emphasis on food at every turn.
Yet the truth is that most people do not even know what hunger feels like!
Such is the state of the semi-drugged masses.
Hey! They don't call us 'consumers' for nothing.
It seems that is our purpose for being.
We have been well-trained. Constantly indoctrinated and re-enforced.

Does anyone want to leave the ranks and become awake and aware once again?
Surely we possess more potential than to be dragged around endlessly
by our stomachs!
The same can be said for all the avarice that we exhibit in such excess.
We have bartered away our entire lives for the dubious satisfaction
of yet another food 'thrill'.
Insensate and dull, we fall deeper into the abyss. No dissenters allowed.

I had my eyes opened to this in a profound way by a person from another culture...
Ali is from Turkey. We met in Cappadocia in 2000.
Ali, like most Turkish people I've met, is bright, frank and perceptive.
There was so much to learn there. We had much in common spiritually
and became good friends.
Though he normally winters in Paris, France. he paid me a surprise visit
during my first winter in Indiana.
I was glad for his company during the transition.

It wasn't long before I realized that Ali wasn't eating.
"No appetite," he would say.
Ali had the appearance of a starving artist and ate sparingly as a matter
of course, so I left him to his preferences.
He was a bit of a mystic. Knowledge and the pursuit of truth was his food.
I understood.
But three weeks passed this way and I began to worry.
Ali was wasting away before my eyes. I urged him to eat with little success.
I took him to restaurants, we were invited to dinner at friends' homes,
I tried cooking for him, but Ali politely declined at every turn.
This couldn't go on much longer, I reasoned.
Finally I pressed him for an explanation.
He remained steadfast and silent. I worried.
Six weeks passed.
I couldn't contain myself any longer. I begged him to tell me what was wrong... why he wasn't eating.
He gave me a telling look. I backed off.

But two days later, in a surprise move, Ali actually suggested that we go
to a restaurant.
I was astonished! He was finally going to eat! I barely hid my excitement.

He chose a diner that was popular with the locals.
We sat down, I ordered lunch and Ali ordered...a cup of coffee.
Nothing more.
I felt as though I had been duped!
"Ali! You can't be serious! What is going on?! Why aren't you eating?!
It was YOUR idea to come here!"
"Debra," he calmly replied in his sonorous voice, "Look around you.
Tell me what you see."
"I see people eating."
"Debra...tell me what you see. Have I not taught you?"
"There are people eating. We are in a restaurant. That's what people do."
He waited for more.
For the life of me, I couldn't grasp the lesson. I stumbled around.
"Well...It's Sunday after church. The restaurant is full of families
enjoying Sunday dinner."
"Debra," he persisted with mild exasperation. "Try again."
I was out of ideas. I had described everything that I saw in detail.
This was just a typical Sunday afternoon in church-going Indiana.
There was nothing more to add. I felt abysmally stupid.

Finally, Ali began to speak...
He indicated a nearby table of diners.
"Did you notice that as soon as the food was brought to the table that all conversation stopped? The people stopped relating to each other and began
to wolf down their food."

It was then that I remembered a moment in Turkey when Ali said that if one was to share a meal with a stranger, one would know every thing there was
to know about that person's character.
I was about to experience the truth of that statement...

"Debra...Look closely. These people live in the richest country in the world,
yet they are dressed like bums! Wrinkled, ill-fitting, sloppy Walmart clothes.
These people do not even feel their bodies. They take no pride in their appearance. Do they not see themselves?
Look at what passes for food! Piles of terrible food overflowing their plates.
This is not good food. It is certainly not beautiful. It is more like garbage!
Now watch what is happening...
They begin to shovel the food into their mouths.
They do not taste, they do not chew, they do not enjoy or appreciate.
They mindlessly wash their food down with big gulps of soda as they shovel the next mouthful in.
They are in a trance.
They demand more bread, more soda...more, more, more.
They are not satisfied until they have consumed everything possible.
Debra! Even a BEAST knows when to stop eating!"

There it was... He forced me to see... I saw my culture through another's eyes.

Now I understood why Ali had not eaten. He was appalled and repulsed by what he found here. He simply could not partake. It was all too much for him.
It struck him as subhuman.
Ali finished with these words....blunt, difficult, searing.
Words that still echo 15 years later.

"Debra! I beg you not to stay here! BUT, if you do, TEACH the people
how to live. How to feel their bodies, how to put good things in their bodies,
how to put good things on their bodies.
Teach them how to be human..."

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Comments or questions for the author can be addressed to Debra Robinson
via email: skydancer@ij.net

Debra Robinson